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The not knowing was hard. Watching them eliminate the trivial made it progressively harder. The endless needles in the arm, the tubes of blood. Negative results with negative connotations. The probings and scannings. Is that X-Ray normal? I waited a week to find out. ECG - heart's fine. Stripped and greased for the ultrasound probe. Gallstones? No. So it could still be....? Yes. Five weeks and finally, the tube down the throat. And I am to be spared. I so want you never to have to know this. I wish I could persuade you to try again. To give it up.
You do not hold hands in the common way. You love to interlace fingers. You say it is more intimate, more of a connection, and it is. This is the way of it with us, this bond. I had never known that the language of kissing could be so richly articulate, yet from the first, our mouths found a soft, subtle speech which spoke volumes in silence. I lie motionless inside you as our lips speak and listen. It is carried by a current. Spine and brain and nerves; driven by blood. The life in your eyes shines with it.
Stolly was the poor sod who caught the brunt of it; bullied from day one until the end. They loved him, the bullies. His home-hacked, pre-punk haircut screamed "victim", it was reflected in his cracked National Health geek glasses. Now he's on "Friends Reunited", the website for finding old school friends (and foes). He's been an alcoholic; struggled, low self-esteem, seen shrinks, fucked up royally and he still feels those old blows and hard words. And he just got himself a degree at age forty. Thanks, Stolly. If you hadn't been there, it would have been me.
Today I shall be a critic. Today I shall slag off those here who do something I regard to be deeply crap, given what I understand the intention of this site to be. I say to those of you who write a continuing story over several days in one hundred word instalments, NO! It's lame! Surely these pieces should be entirely self-contained, needing no foreknowledge and leaving no need for continuation. Writing a longer piece and breaking it up is still writing a longer piece. Jesus Christ, people - that's such ordinary shit. Ordinary writing. I want pearls, not necklace.
There's a guy in my office who has this nervous tic. Every few minutes he puts both hands to his face and rubs vigorously, up and down, fast. The rubbing goes on for several seconds, sometimes as many as ten. He doesn't only do this when he thinks he's unobserved; he'll do it in the middle of a conversation. You can be talking to him and suddenly he's off with the facial frottage. Then he's back as though nothing happened, red-faced but entirely unembarrassed. The damned freak reminds me of when I used to have nervous tics. Very inconsiderate.
You're scared? No sympathy here, because you know what? You disgust me. My girlfriend worked right next to the towers, her building is condemned. You're scared? Look at those bereaved people; down at the site as soon as they could get there, hoping against hope that they're not inhaling the ashes of their loved ones. You're scared? You haven't dared to go jogging since the 11th? Sickening. Gutless. Enough of your craven whining, you reprehensible coward. If most New Yorkers were like you Bin Laden would have effectively won already. Thank goodness they're not. You should be ashamed of yourself.
So I was virused and now my bluff is called. I can't handle it. I keep getting really helpful messages like "Windows reported arse error 23OE-2. Check your communications nodule is correctly bumblecracked before re-cretinising the bitchboard". What? Why don't they tell me how, exactly, I'm supposed to do whatever the hell it is they're advising me to do? So I check "Help" and learn how to open folders and put icons on my desktop. Gee, thanks Bill. Then I go foetal and weep softly and piteously, a sorry stew of self-loathing and techno-impotence. My life is hell.
Looking through old photographs makes me feel like masturbation did when I was a God-soaked adolescent. I know I shouldn't, I know it'll make me feel bad afterwards but sometimes I just can't resist. Jesus, we looked so young. Single-chinned and snake-hipped, all limbs and joints and uncomplicated laughter. Why did I spend so many years feeling ugly when I was clearly cute as hell? What a waste. What an idiot. What a relief it's gone. I'll keep the lines and the pain, thanks. And these ghost children can go back in their box for another year.
Trap a Christian fundamentalist. It's a doddle - just invite them into your home to talk about the bible. When they open their ignorant gob to start bleating the nonsense, give them a crisp haymaker to the lower jaw, which will be instantly dislocated. While they're thinking about this and wondering where God went, grab them by the hair and simultaneously slam their head downwards and your right knee upwards. Aim for the nose because the cartilage acts as a buffer as it crunches so you won't hurt your knee. Scream at them:
"I am your enemy. Do you love me?"
London is an unlovely city. Still, this over-extended autumn suits it. The centre of Waterloo Bridge provides one of the finest viewpoints and at eight-thirty on Saturday morning the old town was looking quietly confident. The neo-gothic excesses of the Houses of Parliament seemed more appropriate when washed in the low gold of the early sun; the trees along the embankment still had undecided foliage - not quite convinced that winter's here; tired greens dappled with brazen russets and watery yellow sunbeams. It took me three years to stop hating London and another three to start loving it.
This is how I am with all software these days. I don't think I'm dumb, I just seem to have a complete inability to relate to the GUI style. I'm verbal, not visual; list-oriented, not object-oriented. I need to see procedural instructions:
"Do A, then B, then C. If D, do E; if F, do G".
That's how my mind works, not:
"Here, have lots of little piccies in a box and try to somehow *feel* your way towards what you want to do."
Yet another thing which makes me feel at odds with the rest of humanity.
All this random hazard: a girl stabbed sunbathing on a city centre wall, planes into buildings, the infinite failures of flesh. Connections break, entropy tends to increase. A glorious day on a shady mountain trail and my attention wandered. I caught a tip and tumbled over the edge. Somehow I turned and found myself hanging, hooked into the packed snow by trembling arms. Birdsong in the cool silence. The squeak of snow under pressure. Dry mouth. Tangled skis. The tiniest movements count. They decide. Hazard. A moment between oblivion and a future. An adrenalin-charged scramble. Still here, hanging on.
"Why do you use that sort of language? You know that swearing is a sign of a poor vocabulary, don't you?"
"No it isn't, you insipid little linguistic conservative. My vocabulary is both extensive in scope and rich in quality. I could drench your ineffably tedious arguments with a veritable cataract of polysyllabic perspicacity; I could incinerate your inadequate intellect with a scintillating stream of vituperative verbiage that would silence your crass mewlings with all the efficacy of a brutal but gleefully applied garrotting."
"Then why must you swear?"
"Because it pisses wankers like you off, you irksome little fuckhead."
They've still got it. Both still rake-skinny, Crispin all cheekbones and elfin androgyny, Katie Jane ever the wild-eyed faun, the schizopheliac. Crispin still has the greatest buzzpunk guitar sound that's ever existed - great stabbing shards of sawtooth mayhem occasionally punctuated by deceptive delicacy and mellow interludes which briefly soothe like a child-murderer's lullaby. Katie totters and sways and screeches and mutters, a demented dryad in smeared lipstick and diaphanous rags. Roses fly out of the tangled ropes of her hair as she reels and spazzes across the stage. No encore. A stunned audience. Why aren't they stars?
In 1810 Mary Anning found a "dragon" in the fossil-rich cliffs around Lyme Regis, Dorset. It was the first complete icthyosaurus - a giant creature resembling a cross between a fish and a lizard. In 2001 45% of Americans believe in creationism and use the most disgustingly ignorant distortions and wilful misapprehensions in order to denounce evolutionary theory. They do this because of a tragic lack of education or a transparent personal need to justify their demented religious idiocy and weak-mindedness. America has many things about it which I find admirable and many I find utterly savage and disgusting.
So, the UK's new "anti-terrorism" measures will go through but without the outrageous attempt to make "incitement to religious hatred" an offence. The Lords wouldn't let that nonsense pass in a secular society like ours. But Blair's crew of control freaks really pushed for it. It's a bitter irony for the liberal heart to realise that only a bunch of largely unelected aristos saved us from this repulsive attempted coup by the savages of religion we blithely assumed were as good as dead. This is why I keep shouting. This is why it's vital to keep up the incitement.
I can't listen to it. I can't listen to your fractured nonsense. I have to attack it or run away from it but by God I will not sit and listen to it. What the hell do we have in common apart from some cells and a foul temper? What the hell makes you think I'm going to meekly tolerate your unhinged, irrational ravings? I wouldn't take it from anyone else and I'm not going to take it from you. Think what you like. Say what you like. But you can damned well stop expecting me to listen to it.
They need it. They dress it in the emperor's new clothes of holiness and sanctity in a transparent attempt to protect it from the assaults of science and reason. They ascribe vast cosmic importance to every little brainfart they experience which seems like, ooh, that was a bit mystical, blimey, I saw a vision and heard a voice, it MUST have been God talking to me because, crikey, I've never felt anything like that before and it was powerful and awesome and stuff. So OBVIOUSLY it was the power, Yahweh, Allah, Tinkerbell, Santa bloody Claus and his favourite reindeer.
And lo, I received a vision! I saw white-robed pagans before a stone altar which gleamed with freshly spilled virgin blood! I saw imploring arms raised heavenward! I heard chanting amidst the censers! And I saw a ragged ape of a man cower before an occluded sun and babble fearful incantations to the shadowed sky! And I saw endless lines of muslims with faces pressed to the holy soil of Mecca; scruffy arses jutting comically while they cravenly grovelled! And I saw yarmulked heads above ridiculous ringletted sidelocks, babbling at the wall, bobbing like God's own weebles! Praise Him!
The day preceding a visit is always a whirl of activity and anticipation. I like it that way. This time I even saved up the preparatory tasks so that I'd be insanely busy tonight. Usually we manage to have an excited chat before I turn in for an even-more-than-usually disturbed night, but she's in New Jersey again so that won't happen. This will only make it more of a pleasure when I finally walk through the door of her apartment, laden with presents. 2001 has been a dreadful year. I look forward to drinking to its passing.
Beautiful white, jewelled with autumnal tones: stipplings of russet like leaves fallen on frost. Delicate tributaries of blue filigree. Smooth plains striated and contoured by ice and light. Smooth planes defined and delineated by blows and kisses. Lambency in shadows, radiance in starless black. Sometimes this sun warms; sometimes it sears; always it consumes. Sometimes this rain cools; sometimes it floods; always it restores. This earth breathes with a resonance of memory, a promise of fond memory yet to come. I am lost in this landscape. Its air intoxicates me. I am drunk with its waters. I am home again.
It seems my uncle thinks I’m a nut. I remember him patiently showing me how to cut the struts and spars and formers from thin sheets of balsa, pin them to a wax paper plan, join, cement, cover with fine tissue, coat with dope. I see him hold the finished model aloft, suspended by the wingtips from his slow but precise hands.
I look out of the window at the sun glinting on the white expanse of the wing and notice its upward curvature. It’s as if we were suspended by unseen hands. I am flying from now and then.
The beach is a crescent of small, smooth pebbles, like a rusted scythe. Ragged crags of black basalt loom behind. Long before evening the shadows reach the dulled edge where the foam chatters on the stones. There are no sunbathers here: no umbrellas, no loungers, no bar, no music, no waste bins.....no waste. The pebbles underfoot make your bare soles tense. Sand is softer, but this is better. Gulls wheel overhead and only their crying and the foamchatter and the occasional dull crump of a seventh wave breaks the peace...no, enhances it. The finest beaches are like this.
Before dawn we reel towards the silent village in a cloud of freedom; two lovers and the stranger, well-met. Bats dart and chirrup, sounding out flies which circle the solitary streetlamp in wild orbits. The sky is thick with stars and the shining idea falls from the heavens. Then we are naked, summer clothes scattered on the sand, running, heedless of sharp shells and pebbles. We dive into night and the breath leaves us in exhilaration, sounding out stars. The sea is thick with diatoms, stars within reach. I stretch out my hand. They swirl away in wild orbits.
The skin of her belly is candle-white, marbled with a delicate tracery of blue; soft against my cheek. We lie on a love-wrecked bed, tangled in stained sheets. I raise my head and gaze. She places a foot lightly on my shoulder and smiles at me, saying nothing. My hand is beneath her body, fingers trace the small undulations of her spine. I lower and turn my head, kiss the tender dew-flecked folds as if I were kissing her mouth. I feel her single inward breath. Her hand in my hair. I part my lips, and hers.
I am tired of hearing and reading regrets and half-regrets; bits of cheap sentiment and cliched greeting card philosophy. Life is a moment when the cloud looks like a face, a dragon, or maybe a horse; when it looks like it might be something recognisable, like there might be a pattern, a form, coherence. But no, it's just cloudshapes. It's the face on Mars, imagination and illusion. There's nothing there really. Or at least, there is nothing like you believe. Not hope, not reason, not cause, not effect, not god, not heaven, not hell. Cloudshapes. See the horsey? Gone.
I am haunted by old haunts: I drive out in grey rain to the lock where my friends and I used to fish. A bend in a country road; same pub, the lone house, the dirt track to the slippery banks. Nothing has changed except me. I walk the riverside. After thirty years I step again on the matted sedge and again muddy water fills my shoe. Here's where I caught the pike. There is where John fell in trying to land it. And there...I killed it.
John. Dead in Malaysia at twenty-nine. I still hear his laugh.
Father, I cannot talk to you. She calls you senile but I see you are not. You are as you always were only more so. More absent-minded, more confused, more unwilling to talk or do anything which takes you out of your greenhouse or away from your pipe.
I remember how you sat with me for hours in the night as I lay petrified by nightmares. How you sang to me with your tone-deaf rumble. How your patience was as boundless as her fury.
We are of our class. We do not touch. You just say "Goodbye, son".
How ridiculous it is to row with a parent at my age. How futile to feel as enraged and unyielding as a petulant teenager when I have these first white wires in what’s left of my hair. How silly that it’s come to this: 3,500 miles of physical and a whole universe of ideological separation. She yelled at me as though I were a child, so I felt compelled to behave like one. It won’t be me who rebuilds this broken bridge. I would bear some grudges to the grave – mine or hers, whichever opens first.
We are so alike.
Wide expanses of flat, scrubby plain pincushioned with saguaro cowboy cactii; ribboned with grey highway and cheapened by impertinent billboards. Each horizon a jagged range of brown and shadow. Cars and trucks and pickups and motorcycles: ant-like regiments stretching across some huge crater. It is as I expected it to be. It is as it appears in movies. It is as it is described in countless novels. It is like that yet so much more mundane with reality. The theme music from "The Big Country" runs through my head. We are overtaken by a driver wearing a Stetson. Arizona.
In transit again. Heading across the Atlantic to meet the sun, this time. This time I am not sad, because she is next to me, wrapped in blankets and huddled against the window. We've never made the journey to England together before so it feels strange to be happy in this direction. She looks tired and uncomfortable. I hope she is as contented as I am. Another week of this joy, then back to the bleak separation. Back to crossing the plain and gazing at the sun shining on the distant heights. This emotional landscape. The geography of our love.
The Tip Jar